Here in Boston, we sometimes overlook – or ignore – the obvious. And so as Major League Baseball cracks down on its latest scandal, here is an obvious question:
What have the Red Sox been doing and how much have they been doing it?
If you think this is unfair, sorry. It isn’t. Baseball’s latest epidemic involves the use of sticky substances designed to improve spin rate, which makes pitches harder to hit. This is true of breaking balls and fastballs, and Sports Illustrated recently conducted a study as to which teams demonstrated the great increase in spin rate – on four-seam fastballs – since the start of last season.
The Los Angeles Dodgers ranked first – and by a large margin. The Red Sox ranked … wait for it … third. That’s right, third. Right behind the White Sox, who lead the American League in team ERA. Other teams with notable increases included the Mets, Rays, Yankees, Yankees and Marlins, all of whom rank in the top 10 in baseball in team in ERA.
The Red Sox, to be clear, rank 12th, albeit with one of the more overachieving staffs in baseball this year.
See where we’re going with this?
Let’s make something clear here: we’re not accusing the Red Sox of anything here, but we’re asking the necessary question. When the whole game is cheating – and it is – then why would anyone assume the Red Sox are different? Yesterday, Yankees right-hander Gerrit Cole was asked about recent comments by Minnesota third baseman Josh Donaldson, who found it curious that Cole’s spin rate dropped in his last start, after minor leaguers were suspended for using adhesives. Asked yesterday whether he had ever used Spider Tack, the super adhesive of all adhesives, Cole sidestepped the question and sounded like Mark McGwire talking about steroid use.
Last night, five days after manhandling the Houston Astros, Martin Perez didn’t make it out of the past the second inning in a 7-1 loss. Meanwhile, closer Matt Barnes is having easily the best year of his career while being praised for throwing – you guessed it – more four-seam fastballs. (Barnes blew a save on Sunday night against the Yankees.) If you’re not at least wondering what is going on in your own backyard, you’re not being honest.
Under the circumstances, Alex Cora (especially) and the Red Sox need to be very, very careful here. All indications are that Major League Baseball intends to discipline managers and pitching coaches if and when violations occur – and inspections are basically expected to start any day now. Nobody in baseball wants to be labeled as a cheater, given fallout from both the steroid era and the Astros cheating scandal, events that forever stained many in the game.
All of this brings us back to Cora, who was suspended for a year by Major League Baseball for his role in the Houston scandal. For all the changes and acquisitions the Red Sox have made to their roster in the last year, the return of Cora might be the biggest. The Red Sox play for their manager, compete for every pitch, rarely get blown out as they did last night.
Look, nobody is saying with any certainty at the moment that the Red Sox are cheating. To date, they certainly haven’t been doing things that other teams are not. But the Red Sox (in general) and Cora (in particular) may have as much or more at stake as any pairing in baseball at the moment because their credibility was in serious question when the season began.
If they get involved in another scandal, well, neither may recover for a very, very long time.